NEUTRAL GROUND

NEUTRAL GROUND

Rethink Athens competition entry

Year: 2012

Type: Private Project

ARCHITECTURE, INTERIOR DESIGN

Team: Pantelis Kampouropoulos, Konstantinos Kosmas, Nestoras Skantzouris, Paris Tavitian

The center of Athens is the first victim of the recent economic crisis in Greece. The state’s budget can’t sustain major services and public space maintenance cost and the citizens standard of living is being reduced day by day. That situation reflects mainly at the form of violent mass protests of people outside, the Parliament at Syntagma square. Panepistimiou Street turns from the busiest axis of the city’s center, into a linear battlefield between protesters and riot control forces. This situation is common sight to tradesmen, working people and passers-by, which they abandon the area gradually leaving many of the tall office buildings and small shops as empty shells. A small ghost town will appear at the heart of this city.

Modern rhythm of life gets faster every day in all aspects. Everything must be done in short time, everyone is on hurry. Athenians are no exception to this fact and with the current state of events that affect their lives and their city in general, they lack time, mood or the appropriate spaces to relax, and to start exchanging opinions and ideas on how to overcome the current situation and think with clarity of mind.

The historic center of Athens forms a triangle and it’s characterized by three different aspects of the city. It is comprised of three major streets; Ermou Street, which connects Syntagma Square, the Parliament and Monastiraki (one of the oldest marketplaces, close to the Ancient Agora), Athinas Street (also a trade hive), which connects Monastiraki to Omonoia Square and Panepistimiou Street, which connect the aforementioned pair.

The soul of Ermou Street’s is order, due to the public authority’s central buildings, the multinational shopping firms, and an organized packed street surface that enables quick transportations and accessibility.

In comparison, Athinas Street reflects a more chaotic nature, packed with smaller shops that mainly trade their hardware tools and raw materials; its heart being the large Varvakeios meat market. One can move across Athinas both on foot and via vehicle, adding to a more chaotic image, while the presence of tall trees mask the illegal exchanges of lesser tradesmen from police helicopters.

Panepistimiou Street on the other hand, was originally designed as the spiritual core of Athens, centered by the three great neoclassical buildings of learning, housing the Academy, the University and the Library. In spite of being a high-speed car vein of the city, Panepistimiou remains neutral, being the stage of book shopping and the occasional riot. Through the latest years in crisis, this street has become the face of confrontation ground of the citizens against their government, resulting in the decline of shop owners and the slow desolation of the area. The street tends to balance the contradictions of Syntagma Square and Omonoia and tries to find a common ground for these two different worlds of the city to co-exist in harmony.

The competition’s title offers us the opportunity to redefine the neutrality of Panepistimiou Street, amongst the two opposite areas of Athens and restart the core of character, education and spiritual cultivation, in order to activate the stimulus to quest the ideal city of Athens.

Removing the car lanes and the asphalt is the first action to achieve that goal, revealing the soil beneath, followed by nature’s bloom itself. In this new setting, the local citizen and visitor will get the chance to slow down the frantic rhythms of modern life, and imagine the city they would enjoy living, in the company of their fellow citizens. The educational institutions will play their own role in this reimagining with the externalization of their services thus having a more active role in society’s development and evolution; the confrontation will turn from physical to spiritual, transforming the street into an open campus where ideas and knowledge can be shared. This process will be realized with the use of a contradicted architectural vocabulary of a soft, natural foundation and hardened artificial infrastructures.

To better approach the idea of education and spirituality, we referred to Raphael’s painting “the Academy of Athens”. In a quick glance one can observe the similarities of the fresco’s background scenery with the site of the competition; the depth of field and the linearity of the central axis, tall buildings on both sides and multiple superimposed centers with crossing corridors. At center of the city that is depicted lies the essence of the discussion between the two most important ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. Plato points towards skies beyond, focusing on the unreachable and unapproachable ideal world while Aristotle on the other hand, realizes the perfection of the ideal world by insisting in resolving earthly matters here and now and in trying to approach the unapproachable through logic reason.

The gestures of the philosophers’ hands are expressing their thoughts and beliefs; Plato’s out of this world ideal is symbolized with the ring and Aristotle’s logic approach and is symbolized with the straight line. These two symbols are either separated by distance or are tanged and tangled, composing the new urban dictionary of the site. The ring defines physical halt and cerebral initiation, forming spaces of social assembly, whilst the straight line defines the pedestrian unobstructed movement through the pavements at both sides of the street, the city’s traffic patterns on the axis (tramway tracks and stations, feed and emergency lane, bicycle lane) and points the direction to the ringed defined spaces.

Information
Category:

Academic Competition & Civic

Date:

August 13, 2012